Friday, September 5, 2014

I had the most amazing dream today.

I dreamt that I attended Pope Francis morning Mass in the Santa Marta chapel and that I read the responsorial psalm.

Actually, it was not a dream as I just received emails on my phone from other Santa Susanna parishioners and from Fr. Greg Apparcel, our rector, telling us how we can order photos taken at the 7 a.m. papal Mass!

Some time ago, Pope Francis began to include people from Roman parishes among the faithful attending his morning Mass, fixing the number at 25, including the pastor and assistant pastor. Fr. Greg informed a number of us that Santa Susanna was on the papal agenda for Friday, September 5. He asked me if I would like to read the responsorial psalm at Mass and I jumped with joy at the chance.

I have been a lector at Santa Susanna for three decades and I also read twice in St. Peters Basilica for St. John Paul. The first time I was a lector for the late Pope was at the Midnight Christmas Mass in 1993 and the second time was on February 22, 2000, the Jubilee of the Roman Curia during the Great Jubilee Year 2000. Both were magnificent experiences, unforgettable moments on a personal level, as were each of the four Masses I attended in John Pauls private chapel in the Apostolic Palace.

Today, however, was exceptional in so many ways. Participating in a papal Mass is a stand-alone moment in itself. But being part of a very small congregation, including close friends from ones own parish, in such a beautiful, intimate setting as the private chapel, almost defies description.

We met at 6:30 am at the Petriano entrance to Vatican City, went through security and a Swiss Guard then counted the number on our group to certify we were only 25. A brief walk brought us to the Santa Marta where additional Swiss Guards greeted us, as did some members of the gendarmerie. I have been to the Santa Marta many times and was very surprised, as the glass doors to the residence opened, to see Pope Francis standing at the front desk in the reception area too surprised to take a photo!

Joined by other invitees, we were escorted to a reception room where we waited about five minutes, and then proceeded to the chapel. Msgr. Scotti had a special place for the two of us who were to read, and we went through a brief rehearsal.

The priests, including Fathers Greg Apparcel and Steve Bossi from Santa Susanna, sat in the front rows as concelebrants. We all rose when Pope Francis quietly entered the chapel and began Mass. Maria and I read, Fr. Greg read the Gospel and the Pope gave a homily (see below) in his very soft voice you really have to lean forward in your seat to hear him. In fact, they turn off the AC so there is no noise when the Holy Father delivers his homily. He rises daily at 4:30, prays and prepares his homily in that time before Mass.

At the end of Mass, Pope Francis, no longer wearing his liturgical vestments, came into the chapel to mediate quietly for about five or ten minutes, sitting in a chair at the end of one of the pews the one right behind the row I was in, as a matter of fact. The Pope was no further than six feet from me as he prayed. This was one of many I must be dreaming this moments today!

After Mass, Pope Francis received each of us, starting with Fr. Greg and the priests. I found myself behind the priests and when it was my turn to greet the Holy Father, I got a broad smile from him. I stated my name and said I had worked for many years for the Vatican he laughed (I am not sure if that was a good sign or a bad one!) and said he hoped I had worked for the Doctrine of the Faith! I said I had worked at the press office but that I did all I could to promote the faith! He laughed again! I told Pope Francis I had not yet retired and was now Rome Bureau Chief for EWTN and that brought another smile to his face.

I then gave Pope Francis a gift I had carried back to Rome from Hawaii a beautiful stole from Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu that has hand-embroidered images of Saints Damien and Marianne Cope of Molokai. All the priests wore this stole at the July 31 Mass for the enshrinement of St. Mariannes remains in the Honolulu cathedral.

These were magnificent moments to cherish and treasure and relive and reflect on for a long time to come. What a privilege! So few of us on this planet ever have this joy and honor!

We took a group photo outside the Santa Marta and then all went to a lovely coffee bar/caf across from the Vatican for breakfast and to re-live the morning. I am now back at that caf for lunch. They have wifi and I can thus post this column and some additional Vatican news.

Ill post some photos from this morning as soon as they are available. The two shown above were taken by my friend Jane Wietsma.

In the meantime, here is the summary of the Popes homily as given by Vatican Radio: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/09/05/pope_francis_at_mass_good_news_brings_joy,_renewal/1105961 (In the photo, I am the 4th person back, on the aisle seat)


This is a bit lengthy but youll love it! And I can hear you saying, Way to go, Holy Father!

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with the world meeting of the directors of the "Scholas Occurrentes" organization an international project based in Argentina that brings together schools and educational networks from different cultures and beliefs. Scholas was a principal sponsor of the Match for Peace played in Romes Olympic Stadium earlier this week, featuring some of the worlds greatest living soccer stars. Speaking Thursday without a prepared text, the Holy Father congratulated the Scholas directors on the success of the initiative, and encouraged them to continue in their efforts to build interreligious and intercultural bridges of understanding and brotherhood.

In his remarks, Pope Francis recalled a time when he was in elementary school when his teacher called his mother to complain about his behavior in class. His mother came to school and after he confirmed to her that he had indeed misbehaved, she told him to apologize to the teacher. Today in many schools, the Pope said, a teacher will make an observation about a child and the next day the parents will denounce the teacher. The educational pact is broken! exclaimed the Pope. The same goes for society, the Pope said; we must recompose the educational pact, recompose this village to educate a child.

We cannot leave children, the Pope added, at the mercy of a throw-away culture where money and violence prevail. He acknowledged he often repeats this, but evidently a throw-away culture has taken root! He lamented that kids are thrown away because they arent given an education or they arent wanted: the birth rates of some developed nations, he said, are alarming! And, the elderly are thrown away. The Pope added that a system of hidden euthanasia has also taken root: that is to say that the social system (it: opera) covers you up to here and then: Die!

Another throw-away group has also appeared, the Pope noted: a whole generation of young people without work, in developed countries. Theres talk of 75 million young people from 25 years of age downwards without work. And this obliges us, he affirmed, to take action to counter a culture where the elderly and young people are increasingly vulnerable, and whose financial system places money, rather than the human person, at its center.

Pope Francis himself played an integral role in the founding of Scholas Occurentes, with the mission of improving education and integrating different communities, with a special focus on those with fewer resources. The organization links schools and educational networks around the world through educational, artistic and sports initiatives.

The Pope said it is important to create an extensive network, strengthened by truly human connections that supports children, offering a place of hope, goodness and encounter. If a child does not have this, the Pope offered, there will remain for him only the path of delinquency and addiction. Five young people from different countries joined Pope Francis via a video conference and were able to ask the Holy Father a question.

To one young person from Australia, Pope Francis said young people today can be one of two opposite things: someone who builds bridges or someone who raises walls. Walls separate, they divide, said the Pope. Bridges draw closer. What young people can do today, said the Pope, is communicate so that others can be inspired; and listen to what others tell you. Communicating is giving; communicating is generosity; communicating is respect; communicating is avoiding every kind of discrimination.

Explaining how Scholas came about, the Pope said he and the founders pinpointed the three key things that young people need today: education, sports and culture. Sport is important, he said, because it teaches people to play as a team: sports safeguard you from egoism - this is why its important to work as a team, study in a group and go down the path of life together, as a team, he said.

A young person from Istanbul asked the Pope if the future will be better or worse than the present. In his response, the Pope said the future lies in your heart, in your mind and in your hands. If they keep these good things mind: if they have wings to fly, to dream, to create, and if they have roots to receive the wisdom of their elders, the Pope added, young people can build a better future for everyone.

Responding to another young person, the Pope noted that just as there are bridges that bring people together, there exists a kind of communication that destroys. He warned them to be very wary of groups that seek destruction, seek war and which do not know how to work as a team. The Pope urged the young people to defend themselves from such groups by working as a team, as a group.

The Pope concluded his remarks with: Do not be afraid! He urged the young people to build bridges of peace and to play as teammates to build a better future. But he advised them, do not forget the cultural, knowledgeable and religious legacy that the elderly have left them.

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